Within many organisations, there will be trades that may require work away from their premises. This may be a simple completion of a delivery of goods, where time spent at a third-party premises is brief, or it could be work that involves complex and large mechanical installation operations taking many months or even years.
Work away can routinely involve both low and/or high-risk activities, and these risks need to be managed properly.
Typical Trades Involving Work Away
The following list provides examples of trades where the third-party damage and injury risks from activities undertaken away from own premises need consideration.
- Construction; mechanical and electrical installation, commissioning, inspection and maintenance; mobile plant inspection, servicing and repair; sign manufacture and installation; contract furnishings, including specialists concerned with catering, laboratories, education etc.; timber and metal goods supply and fit; portable building manufacturers; and vehicle recovery.
- Agriculture, forestry and gardening/grounds care.
- Social work, healthcare and personal services; pest control, couriers and hauliers; merchants offering a delivery service; corporate events/exhibition organisers; and architects, estate agents, sales representatives and similar professionals/service providers visiting domestic and commercial premises.
Material Damage/Business Interruption Considerations
These can range from minor damage to a wall or gate during delivery, to the total loss of an entire premises by fire.
It is important to recognise that there may also be potential that the third party will suffer a consequential loss as a result of any damage caused. Major risk exposures are likely to include:
- Hot work.
- Gas/electrical work.
- Excavation work.
- Work on critical/high value/sensitive/hazardous plant, infrastructure and sites.
There is a range of personnel whose safety can be put at risk by work away, including the employees undertaking the work away activities, other contractors working at the site, those employed directly at the site by the customer and/or any visitors or passers-by.
It is worth looking at what significant hazards are likely to be applicable and in what circumstances there might be third-party damage or injury to own employees or other personnel on or around the site.
Hot work is a leading cause of industrial fires, consistently listed in the top five causes across all industries, and it has been responsible for many of the industry’s most severe fire losses.
Any hot work that is carried out at third-party premises must be the subject of formal procedures, specifically a Hot Work Permit System, but also Risk Assessment and the preparation of a Method Statement (or Safe System of Work).
Work on Services
- Work away may involve installation, repair or maintenance to services at customers’ premises. Significant risks include:
- Electrical: damage to fixed or portable electrical equipment can lead to fire, which could result in significant damage/loss to property and risk to life.
- Gas: similarly, damaged gas installations, whether mains gas or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), have the potential to cause explosions, the results of which can be devastating for both property and personnel.
- Water and Drainage Systems: damage caused to water and drainage systems either inside or external to premises has the potential to result in water damage and contamination. Such incidents can include “slow release” leaks or sudden catastrophic failures causing damage to buildings, machinery, plant and stock.
- Pipework Systems: damage caused during work on specialist pipework, tanks and vessels either inside or outside buildings has the potential for a wide range of damage or injury depending on the substances held or carried within, particularly if these are hazardous or flammable liquids or gases.
- Impact damage: strike by plant or vehicles against a fixed or stationary object such as buildings or walls, low level beams, lintels, machinery, etc.
- Struck by moving objects: falling sign, masonry, gutter, downpipe, tree branch, wall or fence.
- Collapse or partial collapse of third-party property: caused by work where there is a risk of weakening or withdrawal of structural support.
- Slips, trips or falls: due to spillage, trailing cables, waste and work on paths, roads and other surfaces.
- Falls from height: through fragile roofs or roof lights, temporary openings in floors or improperly protected edges.
- Contact with live electrical equipment: overhead or underground power lines or faulty / damaged electrical equipment.
- Harmful substances: contact or exposure to chemicals, effluent, or even hot / cold surfaces.
- Asbestos: release of asbestos fibres as a result of disturbance during works.
- Machinery: contact with moving machinery such as production machinery, lifts, escalators.
- Drowning or asphyxiation: open water or confined space entry.
- Injured by an animal: potentially from livestock or an untethered dog.
- Infections. For example:
- Legionella (cooling towers, evaporative condensers, whirlpool spas).
- Leptospirosis (exposure to rats or cattle) or Lyme’s Disease (exposure to ticks).
- Zoonosis (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans).
- Food poisoning from contaminated or improperly prepared food.
- Assault and violence: work in high crime areas or establishments where profile of occupant creates an increased risk (for example, prisons, mental health premises).
- Noise: extended working in high noise environments such as entertainment or recreational sites.
- Radiation. From:
- X-ray equipment (hospitals/dentist/security environments).
- Electromagnetic radiation (production and distribution of electricity).
- Optical radiation (premises with equipment producing UV, Infra-Red, visible light, lasers).
- Lung and respiratory disease: work in areas with exposure to irritants (hard wood dust, silica dust, allergens, chemical fumes).
There are a number of factors that can affect the risk and extent of potential injury or damage whilst undertaking work away. These may include:
Volume of Work Away
Companies undertaking a large amount of work away will face a greater exposure to hazards due to the volume of hours spent at customer’s premises.
The Work Undertaken and its Duration
The extent of contact between the organisation completing the work and the third party (either property or personnel) is critical. For example, delivery of goods that do not require entry to premises will be classed as low risk, whereas work internally to the third-party buildings or plant will be classed as higher risk.
The Use of the Premises
There will be varying levels of risk dependent on the use of the premises. For example, work at a petrochemical site would have the capacity for significant property damage, pollution and injury.
Type of Premises
The cost of reinstatement or repair of a basic industrial unit would be low compared to a building of more complexity, for example, an historic listed building.
A quiet industrial estate or rural location will have fewer passers-by who could potentially be affected by work, whereas works in a city centre location are likely to have a high density of pedestrians in the immediate vicinity.
Also, works in populated areas known to have a claims culture may be more likely to attract allegations of injury/ illness from work in those areas.
Complexity of Machinery or Equipment
Often parts of a customer’s machinery will require to remain powered or continue running during works and this can present significant safety hazards.
Susceptibility to Damage
Machinery, equipment or stock held on site may be particularly susceptible to smoke, water or physical damage. Often what is perceived as minor damage may not be repairable resulting in expensive machinery, equipment or stock having to be written off.
Potential for Consequential Loss
The potential for consequential loss following injury or damage will often be closely linked to the usage of the third-party premises. For example, minor damage to a critical item of machinery such as a large printing press or a woodworker’s dust extraction system could cause production to cease until repairs are completed, resulting in a much larger consequential loss than the actual cost to repair the damage.
Extent and Quality of Health and Safety Management
If health and safety (H&S) are poorly controlled at the third-party premises, then this can increase the risk of injury caused by the work being undertaken. This can affect the employees undertaking the work away, other contractors on-site, third-party employees or anyone else in the vicinity, such as visitors or passers-by.
Managing the Risks Associated with Work Away
The risks associated with work away can be mitigated through the use of an effective management system. This will assist the party undertaking the work to identify problem areas and then manage these, and will likely include:
The absence of written contracts and agreements between all parties involved can lead to confusion and dispute should something go wrong. They should cover the scope of the work, responsibilities of each party, liability issues, evaluation of risks and related safety controls.
A Risk Assessment Process
As with any risk assessment, the detail and complexity required will reflect the hazards and the complexity of the work. Generic risk assessment documents may be appropriate for low-risk work at low-risk premises but should include the facility for additional assessment of any unusual hazards that may be encountered.
Work involving high-risk premises or activities will require bespoke risk assessments. These may include a pre-work site visit and site assessment, as well as communication with, and the involvement of the customer’s H&S team. It should cover the risks to everyone who may be affected by the works and could include passers-by not specifically involved in the activity. For example, the risk of falling objects from scaffolding beside a pavement.
Plan and Document a Safe Method of Work
For low-risk activities that are continually repeated at different sites, generic method statements may be appropriate but should also provide information to the operative to stop work should certain unforeseen hazards present themselves. High-risk premises/activities should have detailed method statements (sometimes known as safe systems of work) as well as any other safe systems of work particular to the hazards likely to be encountered. These could include permit to work systems for activities such as hot works, confined space entry, excavation, high-voltage electrical work or pipeline breaking. Often the customer’s H&S team will be required to approve these documents prior to the work commencing. These Risk Assessment and Method Statement documents are often referred to as “RAMS”.
Training and Competence
An appropriate level of training/competence is important for all that are involved in undertaking the task. This not only relates to operatives, but can also involve managers, supervisors or others, such as temporary staff. An assessment should be undertaken to ensure they have the necessary skills.
Training can be in-house or through external training providers and should be relevant to the work, for example IPAF (for operators of mobile elevated work platforms), PASMA (for users of mobile access towers), WAMITAB (Waste Management Industry Training), asbestos, manual handling, HAVs (vibrating tools), working at height, supervisor training, Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Managing Safely or National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH). Site supervisors and site managers may benefit from specific courses targeted at site safety, such as Site Supervisors Safety Training Scheme (SSSTS) or Site Managers Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS) provided by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) or the appropriate NEBOSH general certificate.
Some training may be generic for all operatives on site, such as Site Safety Training or Manual Handling Training whereas some activities will require to be undertaken by personnel with specific training or accreditation due to the inherently hazardous nature of the work involved. Examples of this could include;
- National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC), or equivalent, for electrical work.
- Gas Safe for gas systems and installations.
- Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) Appointed Person or Slingers/Signaller.
- Construction Plant Certification Scheme (CPCS) training.
- Vehicle Mounted Crane (often called Hiab) training for delivery drivers.
- Confined Space training.
Audit and Review
Regular reviews are important to ensure that all persons involved in work away retain the appropriate levels of skill and competence. Re-training and refresher training should be undertaken where appropriate as this should pick up any changes to activities as well as incorporate any new developments in safety practice. However, clear instructions are required to make sure personnel do not try to undertake activities which are outside of their skill set. Responsibility for safety lies with everyone on site managers, supervisors and operatives.
Important information to assess the Work Away risk exposure
- Areas of working — in the UK only or Republic of Ireland/Europe/rest of the world.
- Industries/sectors (e.g., Petrochemical, Offshore Installations, Gas, Marine, Quarries, Mines, Warehouse, Logistics/Haulage, General Engineers, Foundries, Waste, Recycling, Nuclear, Airside, etc.).
- Type of work undertaken (e.g., height — how high, below ground (excavations), hot work, electrical work, etc.).
- Whether appropriate H&S documentation in place, and what it includes, such as H&S policy, RAMS, permit to work (PTW) systems, accident experience/detail of incidents reportable under Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), employee training records.
- Any accreditations held, for example:
- Construction Health and Safety (CHAS).
- SMAS — Health and Safety in Construction and Procurement.
- Achilles — Health and safety for suppliers in the Utilities sector.
- NICEIC — Trade accreditation for Electrical Contractors.
- Gas Safe — Mandatory trade accreditation for those working on mains and LPG gas equipment.
- ISO — Accredited quality Management Systems. Can cover Quality Control, Environmental Control and/or Health and Safety Management.